Writer opines ‘there is no biographical writing culture or personal note-taking attitude in our society. There is not even the preservation attitude of the private papers like utility bills, diaries, notes, comments, written responses, personal accounts, letters and other intimate personal material and so on.’
By Zaffar Junejo
With start of April 2020, the lockdown has entered the second week. These restrictions, whatever its nature might be, couldn’t control the thinking of an individual. However, its type, place and time could condition the temperament of an individual. The optimistic side of the present lockdown could be that our writers, poets and thinking persons would write their diaries, make most secretive entries into their journals, and initiate the reading and writing projects. And the artists would conceive the most daring creative ideas.
But I think it wouldn’t take place. I am saying so because there is no biographical writing culture or personal note-taking attitude in our society. However, there are some wonderful jail diaries and memoirs in Sindhi literature.
You may disagree with me, but there is not even the preservation attitude of the private papers. The private papers have a wide-range – utility bills, diaries, notes, comments, written responses, personal accounts, letters and other intimate personal material and so on.
As I said earlier, we are reluctant to preserve the written documents. You would be shocked to know that there are no substantial private papers of Ghulam Mohammad Bhurgri, Harchand Rai Vishandas, Noor Muhammad Lakhiar Wakeel, Sadhu Hiranand, Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi, Comrade Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi and Qazi Faiz Muhammad. However, GM Syed was the only politician, who had archival sense and commitment. Therefore, he gathered and preserved the works of others as well as of his own.
Institute of Sindhology, University of Sindh and Sindh Achieves have some sections and corners of the personalities. But none of them have collected their papers. Certainly, there would be some reasons – one of them might be that family members have never valued the ideas and endeavors of the deceased persons. Therefore, they never bothered to keep their papers intact. Or families least interested allowed the termites to devour the papers. I am not sure, or there might be some controversial matters written in the papers, so heirs kept them in their possession. In either case, there are no private papers or no access to these private papers. On the other hand, some private institutes have collected the papers, and Gul-Hayat Institute, Dokri, Larkano is among the top. Dr. Dur Muhammad Pathan heads the institute. The institute has gathered a considerable number of documents.
I wanted to know the historical context of this bleak situation. Therefore, I phoned Professor Dr. Mubark Ali, a well-known historian of Pakistan. He told me that one reason, which is found across the country, is non-writing and documenting tradition. The British Empire’s confiscating, banning and punishing policy also discouraged this tradition. Dr. Mubark was of the view that all Martial Laws in Pakistan have crushed the writing culture. He recalled that in the days of the Martial Laws, a lot of valuable matters existed in the shape of pamphlets, ideological theses, and letters. The political workers and writers burned, ditched or threw them in rivers and canals. The family members destroyed the residue fearing the arrest or punishment, he added. He concluded ‘therefore, it is difficult to get the primary sources, and it has adversely affected the quality of history writing in Pakistan.’
For, a couple of years, I am longing to see the quality as well as an inspiring diary or a journal of writers. But till now, none of it has come across. It shows our writers and intellectuals never trace their intellectual development. Otherwise, documenting one’s thoughts is the most creative activity, which organizes the lofty thoughts, polishes the writing skills, boosts the energy and sets the mood. If you ask the people who are in reading, writing and publishing business, why you are not writing a diary or journal? I assure you that regular and readymade replies, you would get that ‘still, there is time,’ ‘one day I will write,’ ‘presently I am over engaged in other things.’ Believe, amid all these things, you would find him/her indulged in trivialities. Sadly, they forget that the diary/ journal could be written in even the worst situations.
How someone could forget the Beirut diary of Mahmud Darwish, ‘Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982’. It is one of his most considerate works in prose. It is an artistic expression and witness account of civil war. Darwish has symbolically expressed life in exile. The most common symbols are coffee, memory wakefulness, and death. Our friend Kalal Khaskhelly has translated it into Sindhi from English. I think Darwish’s diary writing in wartime is a vivid example of an artist’s commitment to the moment and art.
Let us revert to our topic creating the private papers. The British Empire indeed banned the writing of political opponents. But it also promoted the documenting culture at all levels. In those times, almost every British officer was used to write a diary or journal. The most common were engineers, surveyors, doctors, zoologists, the Company’s officers, residents, wives of officers, navy and army officers, soldiers and their local staff members. Their documentation was indeed related to their work and it is also a fact that their tone was imperial and partial. But these diaries today are one of the source materials for history writing. Nowadays, if someone is willing to save the documents, papers, photos, letters, and other written works, there is an option the information technology has provided it. Recently, Mr. Arif Hasan’s website has been launched in response to regular demand for requests addressed to Arif Hasan. So, Mr. Mansoor Raza floated the idea that an Arif Hasan archival website should be initiated. The website provides documents on human settlements, transport, sanitation, planning & development, environment and ecology, poverty, water, sanitation, disaster, development of Karachi and architecture. In addition to that Mr. Arif Hasan has also uploaded his poetry and political writing.
The website, entitled Arif Hasan is an encouraging example for our writers, social activists, political workers and artists to digitize and preserve their works. It is a novel idea of preserving the papers and enhancing the access for information seekers – activists, scholars, and researchers.